Background: Millions of people with chronic illness suffer from fatigue. Fatigue is a complex, multidimensional symptom with poorly understood causes, wide variations in severity among individuals, and negative effects on multiple domains of daily life. Many patients with fatigue report the use of herbal remedies. Ginseng is one of the most widely used because it is believed to improve energy, physical and emotional health, and well-being.
Objective: To systematically review the published evidence to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the two types of Panax ginseng (Asian [Panax ginseng] and American [Panax quinquefolius]) as treatments for fatigue.
Design: PubMed, CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health), Ovid MEDLINE, and EMBASE databases were searched using Medical Subject Heading and keyword terms, including ginseng, Panax, ginsenosides, ginsenoside* (wild card), fatigue, fatigue syndrome, cancer-related fatigue, and chronic fatigue. Studies were included if participants had fatigue, had used one of the two Panax ginsengs as an intervention, and had scores from a self-report fatigue measure. Two reviewers independently assessed each article at each review phase and met to develop consensus on included studies. Risk of bias was assessed using version 5.3 of the Cochrane Collaboration Review Manager (RevMan), and results were synthesized in a narrative summary.
Results: The search strategy resulted in 149 articles, with 1 additional article located through review of references. After titles, abstracts, and full text were reviewed, 139 articles did not meet inclusion criteria. For the 10 studies reviewed, there was a low risk of adverse events associated with the use of ginseng and modest evidence for its efficacy.
Conclusions: Ginseng is a promising treatment for fatigue. Both American and Asian ginseng may be viable treatments for fatigue in people with chronic illness. Because of ginseng's widespread use, a critical need exists for continued research that is methodologically stronger and that includes more diverse samples before ginseng is adopted as a standard treatment option for fatigue.
Keywords: Panax; complementary and integrative health; herbal; symptom management.